Below is an email I wrote to a friend, who asked about living in Shanghai.
China is a bit like Blade Runner. I recommend the book ‘Wild Swans’ and the Mao book by the same author, which will give you some context & history. When you’re done, take the same characters and society then add billions of dollars and a bloodthirsty (government sponsored) desire, from each and every person, to become rich. it’s not pretty, or efficient, or ethical, or sensible, but it does make money. Lots of money. There are millions of millionaires here. there are hundreds of billionaires. Also, everything ever is a business decision, and until I learn enough Chinese to have more interesting conversations, here’s the one conversation I have, over and over:
- Response: depending on shoes/general competence, and answer from ‘America’ to ‘south east Portland’. Sometimes, Canada. There’s a security guard at a complex near mine that keeps asking me if I speak Hebrew.
- Response: depending on shoes/general competence, my general neighborhood, which has 3x as many people as PDX, or my actual complex name, which is nonsensical in both English and Chinese.
- Response: everything’s in metric here & I refuse to learn the square meters to square feet conversion just to answer these fucking questions.
- Response: the company pays. Reality: they don’t pay, but this is a very invasive question. Also, we negotiated our lease when we were still fucking jet lagged, so we’re probably over paying a lot, and I don’t want to admit it. The whole memory is surreal, and involved silver sparkle gucci high tops on a tiny Chinese woman who was yelling at me in Italian. No, really.
- Response: depending on shoes/competency, something between ‘trailing spouse’ and Chef, because that’s one of the only job names I know in Chinese.
- Response: fuck you. Chinese talk about two things: Money and Food. When they’re eating, they talk about money, and when they’re working, they talk about food, because, part of the standard office day is spent lollygagging. What should take an hour may take the full day, with 3 smoke breaks, a few tea breaks, a long lunch, possibly and after lunch nap, 2 loud mobile phone conversations, and at least one argument with the person paying you and one with the person you’ve decided is impeding your progress. This is a gross and incompetent generalization, I know. whatever. So is this: Chinese people like tea, and yelling.
- common contexts for yelling: 1: negotiations. this is the culture where winning an argument balances on one theory: ‘saying it louder & more often than the other guy makes it so’, which leads to 2: arguments. The difference between an argument and a friendly chat is determined by the size of the crowd that gathers. (Life in general is loud here–you’re never more than 500 meters from a major construction zone). Often either (or both) of the previous happen 3: on the phone. Apparently it’s a remnant of very unreliable phone service since the early days, but when speaking on the phone, everything is YELLED AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE! Chinese on Chinese phone conversations seem to involve an unhealthy amount of aggression. Also, no one stands still on phones. they’re walking/biking/driving/piloting a scooter/cooking my dinner/in a movie theater/smoking/fucking their mistress/all of the above…
- response: ummm… yes/fuck you. depends on my day.